Incident Response: Planning for the Attack Before It Happens

By now, you’ve no doubt heard of WannaCry, the ransomware attack that impacted over 300,000 victims in more than 100 countries over the past 10 days. While we’ve all focused on effective patching strategies to prevent further infection, an important part of the discussion is how to plan for a successful incident response (IR) to ransomware and other types of attacks.

Nipping Ransomware in the Bud

When dealing with ransomware attacks, the primary goal is to avoid falling victim in the first place. The key is to consistently back up your most critical data. You should also ensure that your backup servers and systems aren’t always connected to the network. That way, a ransomware attack within your environment will have little impact, since you’ll still be able to access your critical data.

That said, an effective backup strategy is simply one part of a larger security and response plan, which should be developed proactively. To successfully combat ransomware and other types of targeted attacks, it’s critical to create an incident response plan, document it and test it regularly to identify gaps and changes within the environment.

Watch the webinar series: Orchestrate Your Security Defenses to Avoid Ransomware Attacks

Building an Effective Incident Response Plan

Organizations that have a documented incident response plan and an IR team, whether it’s internal, external or a combination of both, can respond to a breach more quickly than those who don’t. Organizations that are able to complete an investigation in 30 days or less save an average of $1,000,000 over those who don’t.

Furthermore, organizations that document their plans and test them quarterly or biannually are able to more effectively prepare for security incidents and practice their response actions in advance of a real attack. This allows these enterprises to accelerate the process of response and investigation, greatly reducing data exposure and financial losses.

An effective response plan should contain a broad scope of technical and nontechnical actions that need to be conducted by all stakeholders within the environment. This requires leaders to ask questions such as:

  • Does the information security team have the data needed to perform live responses on hosts in the environment? Is that data searchable from a central location? Are analysts able to pull data from or images of remote hosts when needed?
  • Does the organization have contracts in place with external crisis communications firms, outside legal counsel specializing in privacy and experienced incident response firms who can supplement the internal teams?
  • How do stakeholders within the organization communicate with each other when there is concern that email systems may be compromised by an unauthorized actor?
  • What information are employees authorized to communicate to third parties during a breach, if any? Are employees aware of this policy?
  • What type of communications will be shared with the news media by the organization? Are there holding statements already crafted that can be used in a crisis?

Documenting and regularly testing a variety of scenarios helps organizations determine where gaps may exist. Most importantly, this enables security teams to fix vulnerabilities in advance of a breach.

How IBM Can Help

The X-Force Incident Response and Intelligence Services (IRIS) team specializes in providing incident response planning, program development, response to critical breaches, remediation and threat intelligence to clients in over 133 countries. We have experience responding to and containing many of the largest data breaches in the world.

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Wendi Whitmore

Global Lead for X-Force IRIS, IBM

Wendi Whitmore is a technical leader with 15 years of diverse experience in incident response, proactive and strategic information security services, intelligence and data breach investigations. At IBM, Wendi was instrumental in creating IBM X-Force IRIS which includes the global X-Force Incident Response, Proactive Services and Threat Intelligence practices. In her role, Wendi leverages people, infrastructure, data and technology to drive the capabilities of detection and defense against targeted threats for client organizations throughout the world. Before joining IBM, Wendi served as the vice president of CrowdStrike Services. While at CrowdStrike, she was responsible for all professional service offerings and engagements delivered by the company. Wendi and her team responded to critical security breaches within Fortune 500 companies from verticals in technology, defense industrial base, energy, critical infrastructure, and the U.S. federal government. In this role, Wendi was also responsible for managing P&L, sales and business development, and recruiting efforts.